Thursday, June 1, 2023

Finding Balance: Embracing Writing and Family Time This Summer

With summer around the corner, it’s time to get excited for those long, sunny days that are perfect for writing. But no school means you’re going to have a full house of kids, and finding a balance between writing and family time can be a bit tricky. So, in this article, I want to share a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned from my peers to stay focused on writing while still being present with family.

Create a Schedule by Joining an Online Co-Workspace

When it comes to maximizing productivity, establishing a schedule is your greatest ally. One effective way to achieve this is by joining an online co-working community. By becoming part of such a community, you can access the benefits of a structured routine and efficient time management. Personally, I have found that participating in an online co-working space that starts early in the day has significantly helped me accomplish my writing goals.

By joining an online co-working space, you can allocate specific time slots for your writing sessions, allowing you to establish a consistent routine, eliminate procrastination, and boost your motivation. Additionally, online co-working provides a supportive community of like-minded writers. A few groups are:

1. One of the SCBWI co-working sessions is hosted by Laura Fisk. This session is held once a month. The next session will be on June 28th, 2023, 9:30 AM -11 AM EST. You can email

2. Write 30: By Author Chitra Soundar. This writing session is good for getting your creative juices flowing. The session is every Friday at 10:00 AM EST. You can email

3. Shut Up & Write: You have to find an event that suits your time and join.

4.  5am writing community: You wake up early and start writing at 5:00 Am. All you have to do is Tweet with the hashtag #5amWritersClub. They do not meet virtually every day but once a month Ralph Walker hosts a Virtual Donut party. You can email

5. Focusmate:  It’s not specifically for writers. If you find a session that fits your needs, click on it to reserve a spot. You will be paired with another Focusmate user for the session. 


Set Goals and Deadlines

What do you want to accomplish this summer? Write down your goals and establish deadlines for when you wish to achieve them. If you're working on a novel, having a target word count for each writing session can significantly boost your productivity, allowing you to free up more time for your family. As a picture book author, creating a well-structured weekly schedule helps me allocate dedicated time for writing, revising, researching, and other important activities related to my craft. Throughout the week, I track my progress using a planner and celebrate each milestone I achieve. Remember, regular evaluation of your progress enables you to make necessary adjustments to your goals.


Take advantage of the Summer Reading Programs

Sometimes you just need a quiet house to get focused. Take full advantage of the Summer Reading Programs to create a calm and focused atmosphere for your writing. Encouraging your kids to participate in the summer reading programs at your local library offers you precious hours of uninterrupted work time. By coordinating your writing sessions with your children's reading time, you can have uninterrupted time for your creative work. While your children are engrossed in their own reading adventures, you'll have the dedicated space and time you need to focus on your writing.


I hope following these quick and easy tips you can make this summer both productive and joyful with your family.

Shachi Kaushik is a writer and a storyteller. Part of the children's media industry, she creates content for children that is entertaining, enlightening, and educational. She is currently working on the YouTube Original Animated Series "The Guava Juice Show." In the past, Shachi has hosted Bilingual Hindi-English Storytime for children at the Round Rock Public Library. She has also been awarded Mentor of the Year 2019 from Mentorship Award Round Rock Independent School District. Her articles have also appeared in Austin Family, Brown Girl Magazine, and Austin South Asian. Raised in India, Shachi currently lives in Vancouver with her husband. Please visit her at

Monday, March 27, 2023

Perfect Pairings: Betsy Ellor’s My Dog Is NOT A Scientist

Like wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and milk and cookies some things are great apart but even better together.

This month’s picture book perfect pairing is My Dog is NOT A Scientist by Betsy Ellor, illustrated by Luisa Vera and published by Yeehoo Press.
To be paired with: Smithsonian 10-Minute Science Experiments: 50+ quick, easy, and awesome projects for kids


But first, a little about My Dog is NOT a Scientist:

In this humorous look at the scientific method. Yara is determined to win the science fair despite her neighbor Eddie’s constant comments about her failures. Like every good scientist, Yara starts with a question, makes observations, and comes up with a hypothesis. But each time she starts an experiment, her dog, Renzo, ruins it. Yara is determined to achieve her goal—no matter what her crazy canine throws her way, but the night before the fair all Yara has to show is Renzo damage. That’s when Yara realizes that maybe Renzo is up to something more than making trouble. With a little creative problem-solving, Yara proves that anyone can be a scientist if they follow their curiosity.

The book is a STEAM story, but it is also about resilience in the face of criticism, self-doubt, and setbacks all told with a dose of humor. The back matter will help set up young scientists to follow their own curiosity and a downloadable curriculum guide will support educators and parents who want to build on the SEL and STEAM themes.

Betsy, what makes the Smithsonian 10-Minute Science Experiment the perfect pairing for your book My Dog is NOT a Scientist?

This book of experiments is a great starter book for young scientists. The experiments are short but are certain to get kids’ curiosity pumping. Best of all, the items needed are things that most kids have around the house, so it makes science accessible for everyone. Yara would love this book and Renzo—well, Renzo would probably chew on it, but he’d love it too! 

My goal with this pairing is for kids to know that anyone can be a scientist if they follow their curiosity. Anyone, anywhere can ask questions and seek answers. Messy and imperfect are okay. These projects aren’t overwhelming. They are accessible and it will help children do what Yara does—go out and ask questions! I want kids to use the scientific method as a tool but not be afraid of failure. It’s important to try and fail, and fail, and fail again, because—as Yara learns from Renzo—sometimes it’s through failing that you make the most amazing and unexpected discoveries.

You can purchase My Dog is NOT a Scientist at IndieBound or Amazon or learn more on Betsy's website or at Yeehoo Press


Betsy Ellor lives in a house where curiosity and chaos run wild. She divides her time between seeking out great stories and designing great spaces at Endicott College where others can cultivate their own curiosity. Her previous works include the anthology Heroic Care, and Sara Crewe, a family musical that’s been performed across the U.S. My Dog Is NOT A Scientist comes out April 18 from Yeehoo Press.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

After the Storm: Evaluating Ideas

 After the Storm: Evaluating Ideas

by Monica Acker

       I love a fresh, shiny, new idea – a new challenge, full of potential.

You may, like me, have just participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm and have a notebook or file full of similarly shiny, new ideas. It’s such a good feeling to know that even if I come up with zero ideas the rest of the year, I have my idea treasure trove to keep me creating.

That treasure-trove creates a new problem, though. The best problem. What idea should I work on now? 

I am a writer, but I also have three kids and a job outside of writing. Writing time is precious. If I’m going to spend time developing an idea, which idea gets to be the chosen one? 

When I have a lot of shiny new ideas calling to me, I have to make tough choices… and I really don’t want to. (I don’t know about you but my ideas can get loud yelling, “Look at me! Look at me!”) I can see each idea as an award-winning best seller if only I can give it enough time and energy.  

I can’t help it. I’m an optimist.

OK. Truth be told, not every idea is a potential best-seller. Not every idea will bubble to the top. I did nothing with the idea in my 2022 Storystorm list that simply said “wolf underwear.” (If that triggers something for you, it’s yours.) But quite a few ideas will be worthy of my time. So, to evaluate who gets my attention first, I throw a party.

This is a no-one-needs-to-bake-or-even-shower kind of party. It’s an online pitch party, but the guest list is exclusive. No editors and agents allowed – critique partners only. I throw a post-Storystorm pitch party, but you can do this anytime you have multiple ideas vying for your attention.

I trust my critique partners and value their feedback. When I have to make a tough choice, they are who I turn to in order to help evaluate my ideas. I get to assist them make these difficult decisions, too.

First, we gather our top ideas and craft pitches. (A great resource for how to write a pitch can be found here) This is any idea’s first hurdle. If I can’t form a well-thought pitch, that idea needs more time. Back into the file it goes… along with… wolf underwear.

Once each of us have all the pieces of our pitches in place, we add them to our shared Google Doc. Everyone has the opportunity to drop in their top five pitches. We go through and leave comments about what we find interesting and what might need more development. You can ask your critique partners to comment on each pitch or to rank them from “write this now!” to “this one can wait.”  And, voila, the cream of the crop emerges. That’s a pretty good party favor.

Ultimately the final decision about what I will write about is mine. But crafting a pitch and getting feedback from trusted critique partners makes the decision a whole lot easier. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Magic of Picture Books

by: Karina Nicole González


Picture books are the perfect tools for targeting a range of language skills like critical thinking, sequencing, and narrative development. In fact, picture books and board books are often a child’s first encounter with printed sentences. Therefore, the positive impact that these books have on literacy and language development is an area that researchers have studied for decades.

I’m a bilingual speech-language pathologist for school-age children in Brooklyn, NY. During a therapy session with one of my students several years ago, I showed her a copy of Isabel Quintero’s, My Papi Has a Motorcyle. This student, who presented as a reluctant reader, was instantly intrigued by the cover illustration and title of the story. As we read the book, she began to tell me that her father rides a bicycle to work and that her family speaks in Spanish just like the family in the story. After the session, she became more curious about my collection of picture books and wanted to read more stories. This culturally-affirming reading experience allowed her to relate to books in a new and positive way. Much like My Papi Has a Motorcycle, sophisticated picture books present students with opportunities to learn about other cultures or perhaps even see their own reflected back to them. These reading experiences can foster compassion and empathy for the multicultural world that we inhabit. This is precisely the magic of picture books. 

Educators and parents can cultivate a love for reading by simply presenting stories that resonate with children. Authors have the awesome responsibility to create an honest reflection of the world with our stories, while also reminding readers that there is hope, love, and joy around every corner. When writing stories from this place of authenticity, children can connect to the story on a deeper level. These realizations, along with the joy of reading with my students, propelled me onto this gratifying journey as a children's book author. 

There are innumerable lessons that I’ve learned over the course of my first picture book publication, yet I begin each new project with the same central question and intention:  “Why am I writing this story and what do I want to communicate to the reader?” Before drafting a manuscript, allow yourself to get curious about your characters. I often focus on a concept or condition experienced by a character. This allows me to write a story with intention. Once you establish the intention of the story, you can expand your ideas from that center point. That is the process that I follow for each story that I write. 

If you are composing a manuscript of your own, you will surely experience moments of discouragement. Just know that you are not alone. Find that book or activity that draws you in and shifts your creative perspective, if even for a brief moment in time.  When I’m searching for clarity or purpose with a manuscript, I find myself revisiting Eduardo Galeano’s El libro de los abrazos/ The Book of Embraces. In it, he wrote that humanity is, “…an ocean of little fires. Each person shines with their own light amidst all of the others.” I believe that humanity is an ocean of cuentitos, or ‘little stories.’ Keep sharing your stories with the world.

Karina N. González is a bilingual speech-language pathologist at an elementary/middle school in Brooklyn, NY and author of the Kirkus-starred picture book THE COQUÍES STILL SING / LOS COQUÍES AÚN CANTAN (Roaring Brook Press, 2022) and forthcoming picture book THE CHURRO STAND / EL CARRITO DE CHURROS (Cameron Kids, 2024). Karina has an AAS in Textile Science from the Fashion Institute of Technology and a MS in Speech-Language Pathology from Brooklyn College. Karina resides in Brooklyn, NY and Aguadilla, PR.


Thursday, January 5, 2023

Hold on Tight! Riding the Roller Coaster of Publishing to Achieve Success

by Angela Quezada Padron

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

When I was a young girl, my sister Maria and I used to love going to Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey, every chance we had. The first ride we always targeted was Rolling Thunder, a popular wooden roller coaster in the ‘80s. It had lots of turns and hills - tall ones and short ones. Sometimes the coaster even rode backward! We let others pass in line so we could time it perfectly to snag the first seat in the front car. Everyone knew that was the best spot to experience the slight zero gravity as we passed over the summits of each hill and felt our stomachs rise into our throats while we fell down the other side. We would raise our hands way up high and push our thighs against the safety lap bar to make sure we didn’t fly out as the wind rushed through our hair. After riding at least five times in a row, we’d sprint toward Lightning Loops, another roller coaster that flipped us upside down, or grasp on tight to the shoulder bar on the Freefall ride as we plummeted a few hundred feet to the ground. I had no fear at all of amusement rides, and I enjoyed the thrill every time. 

Image by Petra from Pixabay 

However, as I grew older, roller coasters became scarier, especially after having my son. Too many bad thoughts passed through my head. I couldn’t possibly ride without holding on for dear life while keeping my eyes tightly shut and screaming at the top of my lungs as my heart raced. What if the lap bar wasn’t tight enough on my legs? What if the coaster car got stuck at the top of the loop while I was upside down? What if I fell out and my husband, son, and stepsons had to go on without me?

As I started to get into writing and illustrating children’s books, I soon realized the parallels between riding roller coasters and publishing. There are so many ups and downs in this business. You can be full of confidence one day and completely doubt yourself the next. An agent can ask to see more of your work, then you don’t get “the call” for representation. An editor can tell you they love your manuscript and want to acquire it, only to find out later that they moved publishing houses where your manuscript will no longer fit on their list. When you finally get a book deal, you can feel rushed to get edits and illustrations done by the deadline, then find out the next week that the release date has been pushed back.  You can be published one year and then not get another contract for almost 10 years.  You could even sign a contract for a nonfiction book, like a biography, and have it ready to go to copyediting when a news story breaks that the subject of your book is enthralled in a controversy. This causes the publisher to consider canceling the book, then reconsider and ask you to rewrite the story as a fiction book. As a result, the illustrator may have to redraw some of the spreads, pushing the release date at least a year further out.

Illustration by: Angela Quezada Padron

Believe it or not, all of these issues happened to me over the last 18 years since I began writing and illustrating children’s books. But guess what - I’m still here! I have survived the roller coaster (so far) and I plan on continuing to ride. Why? Because of the thrill, the excitement, the joy, and the pride of being able to write a story for children. Writing a book is not an easy task, but you have to put in the work and take the risk if you want to be successful. You have to prepare yourself for the ups and downs that will happen. You may find your perfect agent the first time, or it may take you three or four times to discover the best match for you. You may only publish one book in your lifetime or you may publish several. You may publish early in life or it may take decades. Prepare yourself for this roller coaster ride by joining a critique group and being open minded to constructive feedback. Study mentor texts and their structures and varying formats. Attend conferences and workshops to learn about the industry and writing techniques. Then hold on tight and enjoy the ride, knowing that your book could help a child learn to read, enable a child to love reading, or inspire a child to take action in their community.  Whatever twists and turns you experience in the process, knowing that a child has chosen to read your book makes the ride all worth the risk.

Angela Quezada Padron is a Latina author-illustrator who spent her childhood days writing stories and doodling on the garage walls of her New Jersey home while enjoying summers visiting family in the Dominican Republic. She writes nonfiction, picture books, board books and middle grade novels, and she creates colorful, textured illustrations with diverse characters and heartwarming scenes. She has illustrated two trade books, “The Hero in You” with Albert Whitman & Co. and “My Body Belongs to Me” with Free Spirit Publishing, as well as a short story "Firefighter Mom" in Cricket Magazine. She was also chosen as a semi-finalist for the SCBWI Tomie dePaola Award in 2014. Angela is an avid seashells collector, Broadway musical enthusiast, sports nut, and admirer of the wonder of nature and engineering marvels. Her debut author/illustrator picture book bio, AS THE SEAS RISE: NICOLE HERNÁNDEZ HAMMER AND THE FIGHT FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE releases with Atheneum Books in 2024. Angela's fiction debut picture book will also release with Lee and Low Books in 2024. She is represented by Saritza Hernández at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Learn more about Angela and view her portfolio at

Monday, November 28, 2022

Creating a Sense of Place in Your Writing

By Sara A. Fajardo

When I was four, we moved from my native Peru to my mother’s homeland in the United States. I remember jumping to reach the elevator buttons to get to the 14th floor and never reaching past 4, missing our massive three-bedroom condo in the clouds, with sky high ceilings and racks that required tiptoes to reach the hooded towel I always wore like a superhero cape. This was the image I carried with me for nine years until I returned for my first visit at the age of 13. 

Walking through the halls after so much time I was shocked to discover I could easily reach the elevator button for the 14th floor, and it no longer felt like an Olympic sprint to go from one part of the house to the other. Beyond that, the ceilings were kind of low, and I had to look down on the racks that now sported regular towels with no hoods. 

What had changed beyond time? About three feet of height and an adolescent’s worldview. While the setting was the same, my sense of place was completely different. When writing remember that a setting is constant, but sense of place, how our characters move within a setting is variable. 

little boy running through forest


To put this idea into practice, think of a forest, any forest. Now think about how a bird might view it. How about an urban child visiting the snow for the first time? A ski lift operator waiting to go on a hot date? A helicopter pilot out on an emergency rescue?  What sensory details would they focus on? How would their needs or desires affect how they react and move within this particular setting? 

 So, how can we use this to help readers connect to our characters on a more intimate level? By asking ourselves questions as we develop our story. Here’s my list of go-to questions:

How old is your character?

·      Impact of character’s age and what they’re allowed to do.

o   Can they walk to school on their own?

o   Can they help with particular chores?

·      Impact of height on what they notice.

o   How does this affect what they notice at eye-level?

·      Repertoire of memories in regards to setting?

o   What memories/associations has your character developed around this particular setting?


What is your character’s cultural background?


·      How does their cultural heritage influence what they give importance to? 

·      How does their culture impact how they interact with their environment and those within it? 

·      What specific sensory details can help evoke a connection to their culture?

·      How can you use contrasting elements about a character's sense of place to enhance a reader's emotional connection to a story?


What sensory details specific to a setting heighten a character’s sense of place?


·      Is there a specific sound, scent, taste, texture or sight in the setting that is important to your character that you can use as a touchpoint or golden thread throughout your story?

·      How do the seasons/passage of time affect these details?

·      What descriptions or metaphors of these sensory details can you use to enhance the setting/sense of place in your story?


What's your character’s worldview?

  • How do the personal challenges a character faces influence what they notice about their world?
  • How can you use specific descriptions to enhance a sense of place in your stories?
  • How does the sense of place differ amongst the characters in your story?
  • How can you play off of those differences to heighten tension and add emotional resonance in your story?

What time of year does your story take place?

  • How can you play with seasonality to build a story around a particular time of year?
  • What sound devices can you add to bring your story to life?

·       How does the time of year affect the sensory details and activities that take place in your story?


What language(s) does your character speak?


·      How can you use language to give clues about a neighborhood or community with well-placed slang, songs, or words from other languages spoken by your characters?

·      How can you use language to bring the setting to life with the sounds and phrases one would hear there?

·      How can you use language to give a sense of the culture and people that inhabit/shape a setting?

A sense of place in action


To illustrate sense of place in action, let’s look at some stories by the PB Sunrays:

Cover of picture book Plátanos are Love


In the book, Plátanos are Love, author Alyssa Reynoso-Morris deftly plays with her characters’ ages to establish a sense of place and burgeoning sense of belonging and identity while Esme and her abuela shop for bananas at the market. Lines such as “On my tippy-toes, I reach for the plátanos at the top of the pile,” deftly reveal the character’s age through a well-placed reference to height. This coupled with the Abuela’s repertoire of memories, “Recipes were passed down in secreto because our ancestors weren’t allowed to leer, escribir o dibujar like you do in your notebook,” helps to create a sense of continuity and connection with the past, which imbues the humble banana with personal history and meaning as the book progresses. Artist Mariyah Rahman emphasizes this connection by playing with her color palette making Esme’s present bright and vibrant and Abuela’s memory sepia-toned and nostalgic. This pairing of words and art take us beyond the settings of the market and kitchen and work together to lovingly reveal Esme’s growing world view and her place within it.


Cover of picture book Diwali in My New Home


In Diwali in my New Home by Shachi Kaushik, a young Priya mourns the loss of her beloved Diwali festivities after recently relocating to a new city 9,000 miles away from India. As Priya travels throughout her day, she contrasts her quiet present with the colorful and vibrant memories of past Diwali celebrations. Illustrator Aishwarya Tandon further enhances this sense of loss in a new home by contrasting memory scenes that explode with color and connection, with more muted present ones that heighten how alone and disconnected Priya feels in her new surroundings. Kaushik works to merge these two worlds through well-placed sensory details, “When Priya returns home this afternoon, the scents of cardamom and warm ghee greet her. The sweet aromas wrap around Priya like a hug. ‘It smells like Diwali.’” Later in the story, a neighbor sees the family hanging Diwali lights and asks if they’re preparing for Christmas, a specific cultural reference that showcases contrasting worldviews between Priya’s new and old home. 


Cover of the picture book The Coquíes Still Sing


Author Karina Nicole González artfully builds a sense of place in The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope and Rebuilding, by rooting in the familiar scenes of her family garden. At sunup, she climbs the roof of her home and is tall as her Abuela’s mango tree, and “when night falls, a song fills the air CO-QUÍ, CO-QUÍ, CO-QUÍ.” Such specific details give us both a sense of her family story and their connection to the land, as well as the rhythm to Elena’s days. When a hurricane hits the island, the absence of both the mangoes and the nightly coqui lullabies poignantly illustrate the damage and loss left in the storms wake. As they rebuild, the refrain “Co-quí, co-quí, oh how I love thee,” paints a picture of hope and possibility as the days progress with each page turn. Artist Krystal Quiles plays with perspectives throughout the story to show Elena in the context of her environment, from a small girl peering through a rain-whipped house to Elena in her dog surrounded by the immensity of destruction, to warm-close ups of Elena receiving seeds to plant from Don Rafael. Quiles bookends the story with illustrations that echo each other and showcase the resilience of the island of its people and the coquíes so lovingly referenced throughout the book.


Focusing on developing a sense of place rather than just providing a setting enhances your readers connection to your story. The next time you write, ask yourself how your character’s life experience and world view impacts how they notice and interact with their setting and use that to make informed choices about what to include in your writing.

Sara A. Fajardo first discovered the power of words when she was four. Newly arrived in the United States from her native Peru, her English vocabulary consisted of the word “monkey,” which she promptly turned into her favorite greeting, “Hola Monkey!” The amused reaction to that phrase started her on a lifelong path of telling stories—first as a photojournalist, then as a multimedia storyteller for humanitarian aid organizations, and now as a writer for children. She grew up in the agricultural community of Salinas, California, and has lived in Finland, Japan, and Kenya. Sara currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, with her husband, two children, and very playful cat.

Her book Paka Paka con la Papa: Alberto Salas and the Hide and Seek Potatoes, illustrated by Juana Martínez Neal comes out in 2024. Connect with her on Twitter